Why does it so often seem to be so difficult to build and develop truly high performing teams? According to Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School and a Faculty member of the World Economic Forum Global Leadership Fellows Programme, we could maybe start by blaming the Industrial Revolution.
With its mass migration from rural working to factory working, the Industrial Revolution brought about a fundamental shift not just in where people worked but in how they worked. No longer did their work take them across a local landscape. No longer were their working hours determined by the weather and the seasons. Now they were rooted to a particular spot in a particular factory. Now their hours were precisely dictated by a factory manager in a way that was, in a sense, quite arbitrary.
And the strange thing is that, despite the technological advances – particularly the internet – which have created the potential for an almost endless flexibility in the way people could work, the attitudes to which the Industrial Revolution gave birth are still deeply ingrained in our working culture. Our lives are, in a way, still governed by today’s factory managers when they no longer need to be.
The triumph of the factory over the farm also gave rise to a new kind of work-based bureaucracy, essential to the efficient management of what was effectively a new kind of corporate enterprise. And it’s yet another feature of the Industrial Revolution that has turned into a habit that we’re finding it very hard to kick.
All of which may help to explain why the most talented are proving to be ever more elusive and why achieving the right dynamic in a senior leadership team can seem nigh on impossible. Where organisations and teams may have been slow to embrace the new ways of working – and, most importantly, new ways of thinking about how we work – talented individuals have been highly adept in identifying and realising the potential of technological change.
They have discovered that their working lives need not be governed by place-bound and time-bound structures that made sense in the 18th century but really don’t make sense in the 21st. In other words, if you want not only to find the best people for a team but to bring out the best in that team, you’ll need to share the same kind of forward-thinking and innovative approach to the ‘how, where and why’ of working life that the most talented individuals have already made their own.
Time to leave old working habits behind … unless you want the best people to leave you behind.